Bill inspired by sexual abuse allegations at Kanakuk Kamps dies in Missouri legislature
The legislation would have extended the civil statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
A legislative push to extend the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil action failed this year — despite mounting evidence in Missouri and nationally that abuse can take years to come to light.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, would have extended the amount of time survivors have to file civil action against a perpetrator from age 31 to age 41.
But it stalled in the legislative process.
The bill was heard in committee in February and passed out of committee unanimously in April. It didn’t get a vote in the House until session was nearly over. It won unanimous approval from the House earlier this month but never got a committee hearing in the Senate.
Seitz attributes the bill’s limited traction this session to the power of insurance lobbyists, who argue they could be held liable for older claims that would be difficult and costly to defend against.
“I’ve never gotten a no vote on this legislation,” Seitz said in an interview with The Independent. “But because of the domination of one particular lobby group, the bill will have to be heard again next year.”
Seitz singled out the Missouri Insurance Coalition, which has 12 active lobbyists, as particularly influential in stymying his legislation.
The Missouri Insurance Coalition was one of five organizations to testify in opposition to Seitz’s bill during the February House hearing. It was joined by the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition, and American Tort Reform Association.
A representative from the Missouri Insurance Coalition declined to comment, but when Michael Henderson, one of the organization’s lobbyists, testified against the bill, he argued it could expose insurance companies to liability “beyond what was initially agreed to.”
“Perhaps, at the time under the mores of the day, it was just simply not thought that this activity would ever be covered under an insurance policy,” he said, arguing insurance companies could be liable for decades-old activities which were not then exempt from insurers’ liability.
The bill that passed out of committee was a compromise, Seitz said — he’d originally proposed a statute of limitations increase to age 55, which was then lowered to 41, and a revival window for expired claims to be reintroduced, which was the object of particular concern among lobbyists testifying against the bill, and was stripped out.
Still, Seitz said he’ll admit that the legislation could hurt insurers’ “bottom line.”
“The insurance lobby is fearful that should the legislation pass, they may have to pay out in claims concerning civil cases for childhood abuse survivors, which is totally appropriate and what they should do,” Seitz said.
Across the country, dozens of states have moved to extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, often pointing to data that survivors can take decades to come forward and the scope of abuse can take years to come to light.
But lobbying fights against the legislation, particularly from the Catholic Church and insurance groups, have been widespread, USA Today found in a 2019 investigation. (Missouri Catholic Conference did not lobby or have a position on the bill this year, executive director Jamie Morris confirmed to the Independent by email.)
Missouri’s civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse hasn’t been changed since 2004, and legislative efforts to extend it in 2013 and 2020 did not advance very far.
Missouri eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in 2018.
According to the nonprofit child protection advocacy group Child USA, Missouri is currently one of 20 states with the age cap set at 34 years old or younger — which Child USA ranks as the worst states in terms of statutes of limitations for child sex abuse survivors.
Seventeen states have eliminated civil statutes of limitations of childhood sexual abuse, and 26 states allow revived claims for expired civil claims, according to Child USA.
Seitz’s legislation was inspired in part by survivors of serial abuser Pete Newman, former director at Christian sports camp Kanakuk Kamps near Branson.
Newman pleaded guilty in 2010 to seven counts of sexual abuse, and the prosecutor said Newman’s victim count might be in the hundreds. Newman is currently serving two life sentences plus 30 years in prison.
Kanakuk leadership maintains that they had no knowledge of his behavior, and Newman was a “master of deception.”
But by the time new evidence was uncovered through national media investigations that camp leadership had known of Newman’s behavior for years, some victims were too old to file a civil suit against the camp and its leadership.
“As I sought out legal action in an effort to hold my enablers accountable, I was crushed to find out I was a few years past Missouri’s statute of limitations,” Evan Hoffpauir, who said he was abused by Newman from 1999 to 2003, testified in February to a House committee.
Hoffpauir said by email this week that he applauds the lawmakers who voted in favor of Seitz’s bill, which he said would “help bring justice to victims to childhood sexual abuse in Missouri.”
He looks forward to “continued momentum” next year.
Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.